Back in 2015 during my second read-through of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy, I got the itch to make my own little iconographic representations of the base Allomantic metals and their powers. My goal was to strip things down to some simple visual language:
It was a fun and quick little project — and I didn’t think much about it until last year when Isaac Stewart, art director for Dragonsteel, reached out to me. Turns out they were looking for some nerdy folks to help design items for the Year of Sanderson swag boxes, and my name had resurfaced! Isaac already knew I loved Brandon’s books, and he’d gathered some of my previous work as reference for a specific project from the world of Sel: bandages
The world of Sel is the home of Elantris and The Emperor’s Soul within Brandon’s literary Cosmere. I specifically don’t want to spoil much of the former, but it involves a decrepit city full of people who are doomed to accumulate minor injuries until they go mad. Fun!
We started with the above reference image and a brief:
Purpose/Tone: A bit of a spoof. In Elantris, Sarene brings items into the city to help the Elantrians inside who are suffering the Shaod. This box has band-aids intended to be used by Elantrians on their cuts that don’t heal.
With just these couple prompts, a template from the manufacturer, and some color ideas (also since it’d been a while, a quick re-read of parts of Elantris), we were off to the races.
Figuring it out
I dove into paper and pencil first. As usual, this was to get as many ideas (especially the bad ones) out of my brain as quickly as possible — but I don’t really have a consistent and organized way to handle these. Years of attending design conferences have left me with more little notebooks than I could ever use, so I just grab whatever’s handiest 😅
I took this step only as far as I needed to before starting to digitally rough out digital layouts — I work in Figma every day for my job at Font Awesome so I’m pretty speedy at this point, especially for such simple stuff. Eventually, 3 different directions and some guiding principles emerged:
- Spoofy portmanteau product names like: Elant-Fix, Reo-lief, “Sarene’s Own” brand, Widow’s Trial Bandages
- Prominent use of Aon Rao
- Blues, browns, and golds
- “Product of Teod” stamped on the bottom
- “Eternal life of scrapes and bruises got you down in the dumps? Next time you slip on some slime, look no further than ____!”
- Small print disclaimers
Years of working at a product design agency taught me to never hand over a lick o’ work without context, so I also put together a little presentation to explain my choices:
Drawing the bits
By and large, Isaac and the team loved them straight away. There were some minor tweaks to make (like adjusting the name from Elant-Fix to Elantri-Fix), but the third concept clearly won. Even my written copy got to stick around!
But I needed to start working on some of the fiddlier, ornamental bits — so back to the sketchbook I went:
The visuals for the borders and the big, central Aon Rao were first to settle, and helped inform probably my favorite bit to make: the title treatment.
For other non-title text, I turned to my favorite place to go type shopping: Future Fonts. More specifically, the inherent strength and stylish flair in East of Rome’s excellent Auroc.
Thanks to planning everything in Figma, I was able to make the title lockup and all other reusable bits as component instances. Any changes I made to the main component would cascade through the entire layout and save me a bunch of time.
Various components also came in handy when making the bandages themselves — all of the Aons could carry over, along with colors and some ornamental elements. So I really only had to a bandage component once, and could swap in the rest on the fly.
Making it real
As the deadline loomed for wrapping things up, I was in the midst of helping moving my parents across the country. So I didn’t have a ton of extra brain bandwidth to come up with a comprehensive recommendation, but I did offer the Dragonsteel team my thoughts on some fancy finishes and processes we could use during fabrication.
Final designs were approved, files sent, and fees paid (the fastest turnaround I’ve seen)! Then I waited for 10 months. Manufacturing ain’t easy, folks!
The new year arrived, and I followed Brandon’s video updates on YouTube to hear any news of my precious li’l adhesive friends and their flip-top aluminum house. Then lo and behold, the YouTube unboxing videos began to appear.
I really can’t overstate how much all these videos warmed my heart. Everyone was very complementary and really seemed to love the cheeky tone and Easter eggs tucked throughout the designs.
Both the tin and the bandages came out even better than I’d hoped! Isaac, the Dragonsteel team, and the manufacturer knocked my vision out of the park, and I couldn’t be happier with the result. They even gave me a few copies of my own to squirrel away or give to friends and family.
And now, for some more pictures because I just enjoy looking at them 😄